he House of Lords is carrying
out a detailed consideration of proposals to introduce new
mental health laws.
The new government bill would allow the
enforced detention of people who are mentally ill, even if they
have not committed any crime.
It also suggests strengthening powers
established in 1983 to ensure patients have therapy once they
are released back into the community.
Critics of the bill say it would fail to
safeguard the rights of patients.
Health Minister Rosie Winterton said the bill
would reflect changes to mental health services in recent years.
"We have made it very clear in the bill that
appropriate treatment has to be available for detention to take
place," she said.
Current laws do not allow people with severe
personality disorders who have committed no offence to be
The government wants to give the right to
force patients who have been released into the community to take
their medication, even if they do not want to.
It also wants to allow the detention of
people with personality orders who are described as untreatable,
even if they have not committed a crime.
I think the idea that somehow this bill is
going to prevent homicides and violent assaults
is a mistake.
Professor Sheila Hollins
Royal College of Psychiatrists
Doctors and campaigners argue the bill erodes
the rights of patients without making the public any safer.
An amendment to ensure a set of guiding
principles protecting patients' rights was debated.
Broadcaster and writer Lord Bragg, who takes
the Labour whip, said this was of "crucial importance."
He said: "People should retain as much
autonomy as possible. People may have decision-making ability
over many of the areas where decisions need to be made.
"It may be necessary for someone to receive
treatment under compulsory powers, but they may have views and
knowledge about which treatments have previously helped or
He added: "People should be supported to make
their own decisions where possible and given the same choices as
people with physical health conditions."
The bill was promised in the Queen's Speech
and comes after previous attempts to change the act were
thwarted by opposition from campaigners and doctors.
The government published a draft Mental
Health Bill in 2002, but dropped it last March.
Instead of replacing the old laws, the latest
bill proposes amending the existing Mental Health Act from 1983.
Health Minister Lord Hunt said the proposed
amendment was not appropriate in a bill that sought not to
re-write the law completely but merely to amend the old act.
Conservative Lord Howe, who did not put his
amendment to a vote, said: "I urge the government to be bold, to
use this opportunity to put the legislation into a context of
values and, in so doing, to make a real difference to mental
About 50 Labour MPs have already signalled
their intention to oppose the bill, which would apply to England
The changes would affect about 14,000 of the
600,000 people who use mental health services each year.
The desire to change the law was largely
driven by Michael Stone's 1998 conviction for the murders of Lin
and Megan Russell.